Alabama allowing Brandon Miller to continue to play is now the story of the college basketball season
The second-ranked Alabama basketball team hosts Arkansas at 2 p.m. ET Saturday. Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley are expected to start, as they did Wednesday in the Crimson Tide’s victory at South Carolina.
This will occur despite pretrial testimony this week revealing that both were at the scene of a Jan. 15 shootout in the student bar district of Tuscaloosa that resulted in the death of 23-year old mother Jamea Harris and capital murder charges placed on former Alabama player Darius Miles and his friend, Michael Davis.
As awful as the tragedy was and as terrible as the loss of a single life is, everyone is fortunate that additional innocent people — most notably Alabama students out on the town — weren't shot or killed that night.
At least 11 bullets were fired on a busy street corner in front of popular bars, clubs and restaurants, most of them by Davis, who police say later told them he was so drunk on tequila at the time that he didn’t recall anything that happened.
Miller, it was revealed via pretrial testimony by a Tuscaloosa detective, drove to the scene with a firearm belonging to Miles in the backseat of the car. Miller arrived soon after receiving a text message from Miles stating “I need my joint [gun]” and using slang to describe that some level of dispute was underway.
Miller had previously dropped Miles and Davis off at a sports bar across the street, according to Miller's attorney, who said Miles left his gun in the backseat of Miller’s car. Miles and Davis later clashed with Harris’ group after, reportedly, Harris, who was with her boyfriend and a cousin who is a U of A student, rejected advances by Davis.
Upon Miller’s arrival, Miles retrieved the gun from Miller’s backseat and handed it to Davis, who soon began shooting into a Jeep containing Harris, according to police. She was struck and killed. Her boyfriend returned fire with his own gun before driving away. Davis was hit once. Two shots cracked Miller’s windshield.
Local prosecutors have stated throughout that neither Miller nor Bradley is a suspect, and they won’t be charged with a crime.
While Miller did bring the weapon to the scene of a soon-to-be killing after receiving a request for him to bring that weapon, Alabama law clearly states that Miller could be convicted only if he knew Miles and/or Davis intended to commit a crime.
“[Brandon] had no knowledge of any intent to use any weapons,” Miller’s attorney, Jim Standridge, said in a statement.
Trying to prove otherwise, let alone beyond a reasonable doubt, would be challenging, if not impossible. As such, prosecutors aren't attempting it. These are the difficult decisions their job requires every day.
Miller’s actions might not have risen to a criminal standard, but they were reckless, negligent and flat-out idiotic. He did drive a gun, at the request of someone he could reasonably suspect had been drinking, to the scene of a dispute.
Maybe more than anything, that’s what makes Alabama’s decision to continue backing, let alone playing, Miller the story of the college basketball season.
There is no length of suspension that could bring Harris back. Still, her stepfather, Kelvin Heard, ripped the lack of discipline or accountability being applied to Miller.
“He brought a gun to where a person was murdered, and he did nothing wrong?” Heard told AL.com columnist Joseph Goodman. “Jamea could still be alive. … Brandon Miller is knee-deep in this situation, no matter how they want to spin this.”
Miller, Alabama's leading scorer and a potential lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has been cleared by authorities, though, and that appears to be enough for Alabama. This sets the standard for team discipline at the lowest and weakest in the history of college athletics; that's the choice the Crimson Tide have made.
“Brandon hasn’t been in any type of trouble, nor is he in any type of trouble in this case,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said earlier this week. On Friday he added, “I feel like we’ve done the right thing.”
That decision has gone all the way up to the school president, and it stands despite so many details about the night still unknown, including, it seems, to the University of Alabama itself.
The athletic department policy is to stay out of criminal investigations while offering full cooperation with authorities, which everyone seemingly has done. The concept makes sense, to a degree. This is a murder case, and no one needs, say, a basketball coach getting involved, let alone creating the suggestion that he is tampering, influencing or impeding an investigation.
However, this sets the program and the school up for considerable exposure.
For example, while Oats and athletic director Greg Byrne knew that Miller and Bradley were on the scene of the shootout, neither had knowledge until Tuesday’s pretrial hearing that Miles had texted Miller about the need for his gun nor that it was in the car Miller drove to the scene.
That was, in part, because there was no school investigation. It is also in part because at no point did either Miller or his attorney, apparently, let Oats or anyone else know about it, even as a courtesy to avoid being blindsided.
The obvious question is what else haven’t they told? Is there another bombshell waiting? Alabama seems to be willing to risk that possibility.
Stanbridge, Miller’s attorney, released a two-page statement presenting Miller’s version of events. The most notable part is a strong contesting of an allegation by police that Miller blocked the Jeep with his car. Stanbridge said video evidence would prove it.
Mostly, though, it was telling not for what was in the statement but for what was not.
A good defense attorney — and Stanbridge appears to be a very good one — is going to present the best facts and narrative possible for their client. As such, when, for example, the statement never suggests that Miller didn’t know Miles’ gun was in the car, it’s reasonable to assume that's because Miller knew the gun was in the car. Or if it doesn’t say that Miller didn’t read Miles’ text about bringing the gun before he brought the gun, it's reasonable to assume that’s because Miller indeed did read that text before he delivered the gun.
As for Alabama, there must still be plenty of questions.
Where was Miller before and — maybe more importantly — after the shooting? What was he doing? Did he drive, with a gun, onto campus, where possession would be a violation of school rules?
Whom else did Miles text that night? Were any other players en route? Did anyone else have weapons? Exactly how did Bradley find himself at the scene? Almost nothing has been revealed publicly about his actions, and they are seemingly unknown to the school as well.
Was he summoned or did he show up by coincidence? Where was he before? Where did he go after?
Law enforcement's job was to solve a murder. Detectives tend to focus on that singular task and that task alone. They aren't there to pursue info into rogue behavior that doesn't break the law. This was not a difficult case to crack. Miles and Davis were arrested almost immediately, and the scope and depth of the investigation were likely limited.
Alabama, you would think, would want to know the totality of the event that found at least part of its men’s basketball team responsible for a shootout that left a young mother dead and any number of its own students lucky to have avoided being shot just steps from campus.
Maybe there is nothing else relevant to know. Or maybe there is. Right now, no one knows for sure. Alabama can only hope as the Crimson Tide fly boldly, if not blindly, into a March Madness like no other.